Amber Karnes stands in an empty parking space in front of a mural. The mural is white text on a black background that says "Alone we can do so little. Together we can accomplish so much."

Hi everyone, Amber Karnes here. I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of the United States, but also as a yoga teacher and practitioner, Accessible Yoga Training School co-founder, Accessible Yoga Association board president, and fellow human being.

As I’m sitting down to write this letter, I’ve been sending emails all morning, moving meetings and checking in with folks, and it feels surreal to start these emails, “I hope you’re doing OK after the events of yesterday.” I am candidly writing to you today to say that I don’t feel okay.

First, since words matter, I want to say it in writing: I unequivocally condemn the actions of the violent mob that attempted a coup on the United States government yesterday, as well as the actions of the president. Donald Trump incited violence toward Vice President Mike Pence as well as members of Congress, then praised the violent insurrectionists as “patriots”. These people are not patriots. This violence is inexcusable. There must be accountability. 

Perhaps one of the most shocking and highly circulated images from yesterday‘s chaos was a shirtless man with face paint, bull horns, and a white supremacist tattoo on his torso. This person has been identified as Jake Angeli (aka the “Q shaman”), a self-styled energy healer, Reiki master, and shamanic ritual performer. If you’re not a member of the yoga or “wellness” communities online, it may surprise you to learn that many people in the wellness and yoga world, including influencers and thought leaders such as Danielle LaPorte, JP Spears, and Dr. Christiane Northrop, have succumbed to believing and spreading dangerous rhetoric including far-right and white supremacist conspiracy theories, election fraud, racist and ableist ideals, and more. 

Q-anon and these dangerous and false conspiracy theories have no place in yoga. Using spiritual teachings to further the white supremacist agenda of the far-right is disgusting and disrespectful. We must call it out when and where it exists.

I have received messages today from many people expressing their distress and asking what they should do in response. I will note that all of these messages come from white folks. I am white, and I would like to speak to my fellow white folks now.

To my fellow white folks who are in an incredible amount of pain today because they watched people who look like them try to thwart the will of the people and violently overthrow our government: I’m so glad that you are paying attention and feeling the urgency to do something in response to the events that transpired yesterday.

If you are feeling rage, pain, anger, sadness, confusion today… good. Hear me out.

I think it is a mistake to rush to action too quickly before we have had time to really process this in our nervous systems. This pain and rage and chaos that you are feeling in your body is normal. This is a good sign.

This is your body responding to and remembering its own humanity.

It is your body responding to the humanity of everyone around you that has been consistently disrespected, violated, and ignored over the past 4 years (and longer) by a government that was sworn to protect them.

It is normal to be angry. It is normal to be afraid. I dare say it is GOOD to feel these emotions today. It means you are alive. It means you are not that isolated. It means that you feel a primal and deep connection with the other human beings that exist in this world.

It means that in your very nervous system live things like justice, equity, right and wrong. Your human element shimmers, vibrates, rages in recognition with your fellow human beings.

Pay attention to these emotions while you compare and contrast the ways that white folks are treated by the government, law-enforcement, or any system of accountability compared to that of Indigenous or Black people in this country. Folks will be writing analysis about this for the next weeks, months, and years, but I think it is still important to name what we saw yesterday. White privilege and power was on full display in the halls of those buildings where we as a nation set up the systems of oppression that benefit some and disenfranchise others.

None of this is new, but for those of you who are seeing it and really grasping our reality for the first time, I do have empathy for you. I encourage you to remember what this feels like and allow it to mobilize you to help build a more just and liberatory world. Allow yourself to feel fully human. Please do not bypass this moment and admonish others to quickly forget what happened and move on to a peaceful place.

Yoga, ultimately, is a practice of liberation. The teachings of yoga have application to the events of this week, the last four years, indeed the last 400 in American history. It is time for some self-study (svadhyaya). I invite you as fellow practitioners to deeply reflect on how the concepts such as truthfulness (satya), non-violence (ahimsa), and non-attachment (aparigraha) apply to the events of this past year especially. How are concepts from yoga philosophy such as our interconnectedness and humanity showing up in your teaching, your practice, your everyday life? These are not just abstract concepts in old texts. They are vitally relevant to us today.

Our yoga practice can certainly be a refuge in times like these. Marginalized folks and those who have experienced trauma must take extra care of themselves, especially at this time. Thank goodness for the technology of these practices that allows us to downregulate our nervous systems, ground ourselves into our bodies, work with our chaotic minds, and more deeply understand ourselves in order to honor the humanity of those around us. But we must not use this practice to merely vibrate away any bad feelings that come up as a result of the current events in America.

This practice is a peaceful sanctuary and it is also a call to social justice. It is both/and. I encourage you to meet with courage the responsibility that I believe each of us has as a human being: to remember and honor your own humanity and that of your fellow human family.

Get to know yourself intimately so that you can recognize your own biases and all that you have internalized from this culture so that you may root out vestiges of white supremacy where it shows up in your life, in your teaching practice, and how you show up in relationships. Learn to recognize your own humanity and the fullness of your human experience which includes things like anger, rage, sorrow, grief, and alienation. Honor the parts of yourself that are feeling rage today and resolve to turn that rage into fuel for the work of liberation.

I want to offer a few potential themes for my fellow white yoga practitioners and teachers to explore as we collectively experience this moment. I want to be very clear that I am not setting myself up as some kind of expert here. I’d like you to read the following keeping in mind that I am modeling learning in public with this letter. I want to offer what support I can, and also point out that I am always learning and striving to do better, to know better, to love harder.

Listen more than you talk (usually)

If you are new to this work of social justice or being involved in the political process, good standard advice is to listen more than you talk. This isn’t to excuse you from getting involved in the conversation or calling out racism when it happens. But often, white folks jump into leadership when what is needed is actually more learning, more preparation, more self-awareness, and more amplification of marginalized voices who are already doing this work.  

Amplify the voices of marginalized folks

Don’t know what to say? That’s OK. Amplify the voice of someone who does. Marginalized folks have been doing this work for a long time and have concrete ideas about what our communities need and how to get there. Listen. Have a platform? Share that power and amplify their voices. Diversify your social media feed, follow people who challenge you and make you uncomfortable, and source a diversity of opinions instead of an echo chamber.

Speak up when it’s important

I know I just got finished telling you to listen more than you talk, and there are also some times when silence isn’t appropriate. We must speak up when we witness oppression. As Heather Cox Richardson said in a Facebook live broadcast a few days ago, one of the ways we can combat the spread of lies and misinformation is to take up oxygen. When you hear someone spouting a conspiracy theory or a lie (such as the election being fraudulent), shut it down. Call it a lie. Ask for evidence. Say out loud, “Trump is lying.” Allowing disinformation to spread unchecked and white criminality to be celebrated is part of how we got here in the first place. Hold your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family accountable when they try to spread lies or misinformation. Feel nervous about having those types of conversations? Good. That’s your body recognizing that this is high stakes, important human work. Get yourself some training on how to be a good bystander. Kimberly Dark has some great resources on this.

Watch for spiritual bypass in yourself and in the teachers that you trust

Peace without accountability is not actually peace. I reject out of hand any calls for a return to normalcy before there is a reckoning. Many people’s faith in government and law enforcement‘s ability to hold themselves to any kind of accountability is understandably thin. But it still means something to hold people to account. Moving on too quickly from this is a way of bypassing our responsibility to ourselves and our fellow human beings.

Resource yourself (and your people)

Notice how exhausted you feel. I don’t know about y’all, but taking off a few days at the holidays did nothing to restore me this year. If you’re reading this, chances are you have a lot of privilege. Consider that there are people around you who are traumatized from yesterday, already exhausted like you are, AND are also navigating food insecurity, houselessness, domestic violence, illness, grief, unemployment, and more.

We are all in this moment together but we are not all experiencing this the same way. Those of us who hold more privilege would do good to be extra attuned to the ways that our more marginalized colleagues, friends, and family are experiencing the pandemic and the current political climate. This stuff hits differently for our Black and Indigenous friends who have felt betrayed by this country many many times throughout their lives. If you are white and experiencing the feeling of betrayal for the first time, I invite you to notice that and let it mobilize you. I also call on small business owners, advisory boards, and anyone who holds institutional power (a.k.a. you have people working for you) to consider the impact on your employees. A check-in and offer to make deadlines more flexible seems like the bare minimum that we could do.

Participate in the political process

The president incited a violent mob to attempt a coup to overthrow the United States government yesterday. This must not be allowed to pass without with only a 12 hour Twitter ban as accountability. Call your representatives from both houses and let them know that you expect them to hold president Trump and everyone involved in yesterday’s violent attack accountable. Here is a sample script you can use if you’d like. This is pretty much what I said when I called my reps last night. Calling representatives is one of the best ways that you can affect change as an individual in the political process. They count every call and every email they receive and that is heavily weighed when they go to vote on issues.

Hi, my name is [NAME] and I live in [City, State, Zip]. I am one of your constituents and I am asking you as my representative in Congress to do whatever is in your power to immediately advocate for the Vice President and Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and/or support articles of impeachment. He should be removed from office for inciting violence yesterday, for spreading lies about the electoral system, and for fomenting insurrection.

I also expect you to call for the resignation of all members of Congress who voted to thwart the will of the people and block your constituents’ votes. I also expect you to insist on a full investigation into any and all law enforcement that allowed this disrespectful and violent event to take place. This assault on democracy is extremely concerning to me as a business owner and an American and I expect you to represent me in this matter.

Please resolve to let this change you. Remembering your humanity and taking action when someone else is harmed is the Yoga.

In love and solidarity,
Amber Karnes
January 7, 2021